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Benefits and risks of using supplements and sports foods

The AIS Sports Supplement Framework

Sports foods and supplements can play a small but important role in the sports nutrition plans of high performance athletes. Sporting organisations, sports science and medicine practitioners, coaches and athletes all contribute to a pragmatic and transparent approach that balances the pros and cons of supplement/sports food use by considering: is it safe? Is it effective? Is it permitted for use in sport?

The ABCD Classification system ranks sports foods and supplement ingredients into four groups according to scientific evidence and other practical considerations that determine whether a product is safe, permitted and effective in improving sports performance.

AIS Supplements Framework Committee has revised the Supplements Framework to ensure it has the most up to date information and resources for practitioners and athletes.

2021 AIS supplements and sports foods in high performance sport framework

Guiding principles for AIS Sports Supplements Framework

Is it safe?

Is it permitted in sport?

Is there evidence that it “works”?

Minimising Risk From Performance Supplements: An Athlete’s Guide


As per advice from the Sport Integrity Australia, no supplement is 100% safe to use and most supplements do not actually improve performance. It is important that all athletes are aware of the risks involved in taking supplements, therefore the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has put together an athlete guide to assist in their decision making. The AIS believes athletes should not take any supplements without first consulting their Sports Doctor or Accredited Sports Dietitian.


Understanding contamination risk associated with protein fortified foods: Report

The fortification of foods with additional protein is an increasing trend within food industry across a wide range of foods, from breakfast cereals and bars to flavoured milks. The doping risk profile associated with these foods is confusing for both athletes and performance nutrition practitioners. As such, we commissioned an investigation by a group of sports dietitians to better understand this risk. This report summarises the learnings from this detailed investigation.


Protein fortified food: Athlete poster

A Sport Integrity Australia study, supported by the AIS, has found that commercially manufactured protein fortified foods (PFFs) present no additional risk of containing substances banned in sport than other processed foods. This is the result of high quality food manufacturing standards in Australia. This poster summarises these key points for athletes, and highlights what foods or settings may contain higher risk PFFs.


IOC consensus statement

The 2018 consensus statement on supplements and the high-performance athlete by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) provides a summary of the challenges faced by the high performance athletes, coaches and support staff when considering the use of supplements.

Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, Larson-Meyer DE,  Peeling P, Phillips SM, Rawson ES, Walsh NP, Garthe I, Geyer H, Meeusen R, van Loon LJC, Shirreffs SM, Spriet LL, Stuart M, Vernec A, Currell K, Ali VM, Budgett RG, Ljungqvist A, Mountjoy M, Pitsiladis YP, Soligard T, Erdener U, Engebretsen L.
Br J Sports Med. 2018 ;52(7):439-455. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099027

Nutrition usually makes a small but potentially valuable contribution to successful performance in elite athletes, and dietary supplements can make a minor contribution to this nutrition programme. Nonetheless, supplement use is widespread at all levels of sport. Products described as supplements target different issues, including (1) the management of micronutrient deficiencies, (2) supply of convenient forms of energy and macronutrients, and (3) provision of direct benefits to performance or (4) indirect benefits such as supporting intense training regimens. The appropriate use of some supplements can benefit the athlete, but others may harm the athlete's health, performance, and/or livelihood and reputation (if an anti-doping rule violation results). A complete nutritional assessment should be undertaken before decisions regarding supplement use are made. Supplements claiming to directly or indirectly enhance performance are typically the largest group of products marketed to athletes, but only a few (including caffeine, creatine, specific buffering agents and nitrate) have good evidence of benefits. However, responses are affected by the scenario of use and may vary widely between individuals because of factors that include genetics, the microbiome and habitual diet. Supplements intended to enhance performance should be thoroughly trialled in training or simulated competition before being used in competition. Inadvertent ingestion of substances prohibited under the anti-doping codes that govern elite sport is a known risk of taking some supplements. Protection of the athlete's health and awareness of the potential for harm must be paramount; expert professional opinion and assistance is strongly advised before an athlete embarks on supplement use.

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